Hairstylist Eduige Joffe from Benin makes a point these days to use electric taxis to get around Cotonou, saying they enjoy a quiet, clean ride.
Motorcycle taxis are a popular and cheap mode of transportation in West Africa.
But in Benin and Togo, electric models are gaining ground over petrol-powered competitors.
Customers are enjoying greener travel, and taxi drivers are turning to machines that are, above all, less expensive to buy and operate.
“They’re very quiet and don’t smoke,” says Joffe, 26, who had just completed a half-hour run through Benin’s economic hub.
In African cities, road pollution has become a major health and environmental problem, although the cost of electric motorcycles is the biggest attraction for taxi drivers.
“I managed,” said Goofy’s driver, Octave, wearing the green and yellow vest used by Zmidjan taxis in Benin, which means “take me quickly” in the local Fon language.
“I make more money on my gas-powered motorcycle.”
Local environmental activist Muriel Hozanekpon said electric scooters have some drawbacks, “but not on an environmental level.”
Alain Tosonon, a journalist specializing in environmental issues, said that electric bicycles are appreciated by taxi drivers because they are less expensive to maintain or operate.
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The cost factor has become more important in the face of the fuel price explosion this year due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
– Credit carrot –
In Benin, an electric motorcycle costs CFA 480,000 (737 USD/EUR) versus 49,050 CFA (752 USD/EUR) for its petrol equivalent.
But this significant price difference is only one factor explaining the trend toward “silent motorcycles,” says Tosonon.
Many taxi drivers are also lured by flexible credit deals – instead of making a huge one-time purchase, many are able to get loans that they pay off monthly, weekly or even daily.
Two companies in Cotonou offer electric models and say they are overwhelmed with demand.
“The queue here is from morning to evening. Every hour, at least two people come out of the store,” said salesman Anisette Takalogo.
They have put thousands of e-bikes into circulation, said Olufonmi Kukui, 38, manager of another company that delivers models to Cotonou.
“The number is increasing every day.”
By assembling motorcycles locally in Benin, his electric models are cheaper than if they were imported.
To attract customers, his company, Zed-Motors, offers solar panels to make recharging easier for those without electricity at home.
For decades, Benin and its economy suffered from blackouts. The situation has improved, but outages are still common.
In rural areas, in particular, access to electricity remains largely inaccessible.
– electric motorcycle battery change –
In Lomé, the capital of neighboring Togo, Octave de Souza proudly parades through the streets on his brand-new green electric motorcycle.
One point in particular makes him and his wallet happy: no more fuel.
He smiled, “All you have to do is change the battery.” “There are outlets, you go there and they exchange it for you.”
Recharge costs 1,000 CFA ($1.50/€) and can provide a three-day commute. For the same price, Octave said, he would only be able to ride for a day on subsidized petrol.
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Local authorities are also promoting electrification in a bid to replace old, heavily polluting motorcycles.
But some drivers remain wary of electric models, citing range anxiety—the worry of stopping with a dead battery.
Taxi driver Kofi Abotsi said he struggled with the “pressure” of having to quickly find a charging station so he wouldn’t crash.
“This sometimes leads us to swap (the battery) even with 10 percent or 15 percent of charge remaining so that we don’t have any unpleasant surprises along the way.”